Don't leave clean laundry in the machine after the load has finished washing -- especially not overnight. With a nice warm, dark environment like a closed washing machine, bacteria and mold both thrive.
Never put damp laundry in the washing pile. If you can't wash wet or damp clothes and towels immediately, pre-treat as needed and then let them dry to avoid getting smelly.
Thicker towels and heavy clothing such as jeans take longer to dry, so be sure to dry them thoroughly each time.
Hang your laundry outside to dry. The sun can help keep mold at bay -- just be sure to dry everything completely (even if it means some time in the dryer inside).
Avoid using liquid fabric softener in the washing machine, as some people have experienced a build-up of "gunk" from its use. (Vinegar is said to be a natural fabric softener.) If you do use store-bought fabric softener, dilute the mixture with water before adding it to the machine, and realize that the softener can make laundry harder to dry.
There are many different laundry additions you can try -- get some suggestions below. But be aware that these measures are guidelines only, and effectiveness will depend on many factors, including size of load, water temperature and amount of water used, origin of the bad smell, etc.
Try allowing each load of smelly laundry to pre-soak for at least 15 minutes in hot water, using one of these additives per load to see what (and how much) works best for you: borax (about 1/2 cup), vinegar (3/4 cup), lemon juice (about 1/2 cup), baking soda (3/4 cup), hydrogen peroxide diluted to 3% (1/2 cup).
You can try using 1/4 cup bleach (add to wash water and make sure it has been diluted significantly before adding smelly laundry, and never use bleach with any other additive besides regular detergent). Another option is to add 1/2 cup ammonia to a load of laundry, but BE SURE not to use with bleach to avoid creating dangerous fumes.
Try a commercial laundry detergent that has an odor-removing additive, such as Febreze or Renuzit.
Use hot water to wash loads that smell.
To help keep your smelly laundry problem from returning, you may need to give your clothes washer a deep clean of its own. Find out how to deodorize your smelly washing machine here.
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